Volunteer Voices: Jennifer Sarabia

Published on March 27th, 2018

Jennifer Sarabia

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re showcasing a few of our volunteers this week and their commitment to young people and Peer Health Exchange’s mission.

College/ University: The University of Chicago

Major: Anthropology/Pre-med

Why did you decide to volunteer at Peer Health Exchange?

I decided to join Peer Health Exchange as a way to volunteer in a community that I knew I was going to live in for quite a while, and seeing how young people in said community were not given the opportunity to extensively learn about their health, I believed joining Peer Health Exchange would help me spread knowledge to those young people and help them feel empowered. I hope to find a career that allows me to combat health disparities and reproductive injustice, so volunteering for Peer Health Exchange seemed like a perfect fit; I am able to connect with members of the South Side community, and I get to teach, and learn alongside, the students.

What about Peer Health Exchange’s vision or mission attracted you to the organization?

Peer Health Exchange’s focus on empowerment attracted me to the organization. Many times, we overlook young people’s autonomy, we prematurely decide that for whatever reason they could not, or should not, make decisions on their behalf. By supplying our students the knowledge they need to understand how to learn and talk about their health, we help them realize that they should have the power to make decisions for themselves.

How long have you been a volunteer at Peer Health Exchange?

I have volunteered for Peer Health Exchange for 2 years, going into my third year as a volunteer. Like all educators, I started out as a HE (Health Educator) and then became an LSHE (Leadership-Senior Health Educator), where my primary job is to act as a Volunteer Engagement Director. My role as a LSHE allows me to plan PHE wide events aimed at allowing our volunteers to connect outside of their WG meetings. We plan study breaks, small get gathering, and if possible we try to establish connections with other UChicago organizations aimed at volunteering in the South Side.

What have you gained and/or learned from volunteering at Peer Health Exchange?

As a volunteer with Peer Health Exchange, I have learned to become much more comfortable teaching and leading a workshop. I have never considered myself a fan of public speaking, but teaching in front of the students is an exhilarating and fun experience. I have learned to think on my feet, which is important when answering student questions. But, I also believe that as educators we tend to learn alongside the students. Our students expose us to new terms and topics that are relevant to their age group, and with the information we learn from them, we’re better able to focus our workshops to cater to our students’ needs.

What does health equity mean to you?

To me, health equity means that people should have the right to equal access to knowledge and resources aimed at helping them learn more about various health topics, and feel empowered to make their own decisions on what is best for them and their bodies.

What has been your most memorable moment as a Peer Health Exchange volunteer?

Recently, I was able to teach in the same classroom two weeks in a row. Going into that classroom on during the second week, I was surprised and very happy to realize that the majority of the students remembered my name. They were even impressed that I was able to remember their names, as well! This makes me excited that UChicago is going to adopt the Relationship Centered Model for this upcoming year. With this model, our volunteers and students will be able to form stronger relationships, which will hopefully allow our students to have greater trust in Peer Health Exchange and their educators.

What issues are you most concerned about?

I’m passionate about reproductive justice and health. I hope to pursue a career that helps me bridge, and eventually eliminate, the gap in health disparities that particularly affect bodies that are assigned at birth. Especially in our current social climate, we are seeing a greater attack on the effort to equalizing health access. For me, PHE serves as a building block in my future effort to combat growing health disparities.

Who inspires you and/or who is your role model when it comes to health advocacy and why?

One of my biggest role models is my sister, who works as a social worker in Los Angeles. She works every day to ensure that her patients are receiving the best care available, and she works to establish a strong relationship with her patients so that she can advocate for them to the best of her abilities. Her job is difficult–both mentally and emotionally–but she enjoys interacting with her patients and helping them receive the health resources they deserve.

Anything else you would want us to know about you and/or your experience with Peer Health Exchange?

Peer Health Exchange has really helped me understand the role that young people play in helping advance health equity in our society. PHE empowers both its educators and the students participating in the workshops to become autonomous members of society, and I am happy to have a small role in helping young people find and use their voice.

How can I join Peer Health Exchange's mission?